CHICAGO, IL - Kristian Vesalainen impressed the Winnipeg Jets scouts with his on-ice abilities, but one off-ice characteristic the 18-year-old showed moments after being drafted made the staff just as happy.
"What we did with every player that we interviewed at the Combine, we said bring your skates to the (Draft)," said Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff. The reason being the team's development camp starts two days after the conclusion of the first round.
"I guess he's a good listener because he brought his skates."
Vesalainen has played in the Swedish Hockey League in each of the past two seasons, accumulating eight points in 45 games. The winger has also represented Finland at the international level, winning a gold medal at the World Under-18 Hockey Championship in 2015-16. He then led this year's Under-18 tournament in goals (6) and points (13), and for his efforts was named to the tournament all-star team, and was also recognized as the tournament MVP.
"He's a big body, he skates really well, and he's got good hands. He's a player that will complement the other aspects of our roster very well," Cheveldayoff said of the 6'3", 209-pound Vesalainen. "He's not one of those guys that is a long-range development guy. He's got a big body, I think he'll be able to put more meat on the bone. But I do think he's a little more physically mature than some of the other players at 18."
Now, he'll join some of his fellow countrymen in the Winnipeg Jets organization, including Patrik Laine, who he played with at the 2015-16 Under-18 event.
"We were up on stage - and I think it was Mark Hillier - I think he said 'Hey Kristian are you going to look forward to passing to Laine?' and he just had a big twinkle in his eye," said Cheveldayoff. "You don't set out to say 'we're going to draft this nationality or that nationality' but it certainly helps when you have players that have flourished in a marketplace, know a marketplace well, and are excited about it. Those are the opportunities that you like to take advantage of."
Video: Jets draft F Kristian Vesalainen No. 24
Cheveldayoff added that he and his staff had Vesalainen as a target when they had the 13th overall selection, before trading that pick to the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday.
They were thrilled to get a player they ranked so high in the 24th spot.
Vesalainen, who was ranked seventh among European skaters by NHL Central Scouting, is expected to play in Liiga next season with HPK.
"Obviously it's all very fresh for us here having just acquired him," said Cheveldayoff. "There's an air of confidence with players that play in men's leagues, play at top calibre, and perform well.
"In our research, we feel we've drafted a real strong character player and a very good person."